Approaching An Emotional Affair

In an ideal marriage, both members of the relationship look to each other for support, a confidant, and a connection that meets both physical and emotional needs. Problems are bound to arise when one half of the couple starts to seek (or finds) one of those qualities in someone other than their spouse.

One of our subscribers recently sent over a question about this very issue:

“My wife says I’m controlling her. I don’t know how I’m doing it. She says we need space and wants me to find somewhere to stay for a couple months. The problem is she has been talking to a childhood friend and confided in him about our problems. Now this friend is always in contact with her. How am I supposed to give her space when I catch her lying to me? I think her friend is the one keeping us apart. How do I address this with her?”

An emotional affair can cause just as much damage as a physical one.
An emotional affair can cause just as much damage as a physical one.

This subscriber hit the nail right on the head – the emotional connection his wife has formed with this old friend IS contributing to their problems and keeping them apart.

Now, it’s hard to say if her opinion that he’s controlling came before or after she reconnected with this friend, but we can draw two very important lessons from this small part of the question:

First: when emotional or physical affairs happen, it’s almost always the “fault” of both members of the marriage. This isn’t to place blame on our question submitter, but to recognize that whether he was being controlling, or his wife just perceived that he was, they both played a role in the situation because it was never properly addressed.

Second: when people (like this person’s wife) are in the midst of an emotional affair, no matter how minor or major that emotional connection may be, they have a hard time seeing the faults of their actions – because this new person in their life is making them feel better about themselves, and likely reinforcing the negative opinions they have about their spouse.

So, what can this husband do? If his wife already thinks he’s controlling, his attempts to tell her what she’s doing wrong (to get her to see the problems she’s causing with the connection to her old friend) may very well reinforce her negative opinion of him.

This creates a pretty tough situation, but through a calm, understanding approach, this couple CAN get through this.

In these cases, it’s important not to place blame or throw out accusations, but instead let your spouse know that you understand why they may be seeking connection elsewhere, and explain to them that YOU want to be that connection for them. They also have to understand that they can’t possibly rebuild their connection to you if they are maintaining and emotional (or even physical) relationship with someone else.

Emotional affairs happen when communication breaks down and one spouse looks for confide in someone else. It may feel like a relief, but it’s really driving a wedge in the marriage. To overcome this, communication must be repaired – and that may mean swallowing some pride (by both members of the relationship) and addressing what both of you have done to bring you to this low point.

This is as much about listening as talking, and you’ll probably both have to air some grievances. Getting it on the table, however, is the first step to moving past the hurt and starting to build a better marriage.

To not come off as controlling or demanding, simply ask – ask for a chance to be a better spouse yourself, ask for an opportunity to address the problems you’ve faced in the past (and are facing presently), ask that your spouse be totally honest with you about their feelings and concerns, and most importantly, ask your spouse to start down the path of a brand new relationship with you.

You don’t have to go back to the old way, but until you face why things were the way they were, you won’t be able to create a healthier, happier new version of the marriage you already have.

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders,

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bMe 10 years ago

My beautiful husband who I have 3 young kids with and who I have put on a pedestal and loved my heart too for 11 years, has been caught by me, emailing, flirting with a work colleague who he has never met for over a year and a half. Yes, we have had issues, and we work on them.. Im not going to hide that. One night last week, I went thru his phone, he was asleep. I did this as I hadn't seen him much as he went off to work very early and comes home late, and I wanted to see who he was during the day and what his life was like. i had noticed changes in him too, he had brought all new clothes and had a new haircut. He wanted to leave earlier to work, and said he would come home earlier but never did. He still came home late. While I thought nothing of it, just thought he was busy. I worked extra hard with the kids at home. Anyway first what happened was I found 2 erotic pictures of a real girl in sexy lingerie and underneath those 2 pics was a picture of my dog and he texted to his friend " these *****es are more ****ing trustworthy than ours". (meaning me and his friends girlfriend) .. This really hurt, and this was texted the night before our 11 year wedding anniversary, and we were happy at this time!!! in the same unit of text messages his friend asks him if he has seen the holiday pictures of this girl at his work, my husband replies with "yeah mate Im zooming in on her now" .

victor 10 years ago

what to do when my wife took me back after me cheating on her and things don't look promising I have change and also has she nothing but fighting and not getting along together as much as I love her and I want to work things out , she spends her time hoping for the worst im to the point of don't know what to do is she trying to make it bad so it wont work or what a person can only be in a situation where theres no true love or affection what can I do should I call it quits or be with her and see when or how much I can take .

Mr misunserstood 10 years ago

T did have an emotional affair, i have no idea if it stopped. I did tell her , if you know youre doing sometging wrong please stop. And i said , dont respond

Lance 10 years ago

"First: when emotional or physical affairs happen, it’s almost always the “fault” of both members of the marriage." Tell that to bMe Really?? This is the most absurd thing I ever heard.!!... Really sad coming from a therapist.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Please continue to read, Lance. As stated, it's not to lay blame. The blame lays with the one who made the mistake, but it's our job as a spouse to speak up when we know something is not right in our marriage.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Hi, Mr - Sorry to hear things aren't better for you. There are ways to deal with a physical and emotional affair -

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Hi, Victor - it sounds like you both need to have a heart to heart to decide if you are moving forward as a couple or apart as individuals. We believe a marriage can survive and affair, but both need to try.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Hi, b - we have some advice that talks about online communication with your spouse. I hope it helps and you both are able to talk through it.

Ben 10 years ago

Did you two talk about your internet infidelity?

Mike_Olsen_SMN 10 years ago

Hi, Ben - did you look at this article as well?

Impossible says I'm possible 10 years ago

Ouch! Yes as a woman and married 11 yrs that would sting, because first off Picts of the woman, but then the dog - however you said meaning me and his girlfriend, sorry but maybe your making it about you when he was just simply aggravated with this woman, some parasites weasel or try to weasel he threw he picture in with the dog but stuck up for the dog saying that dog was more trustworthy - and internalizing it because you felt sneaky in going through the phone! Did you tell him his style change was hawt! And the haircut really showed off his features and he was so handsome - face value and opening up communication in a non threatening way - breathe don't as if and think but it clearly bothers you, own up to snooping own it and show your trustworthy tell him it stung and your feelings but be clear not to accuse or blame, stick to your feelings and guilt for snooping - he should place that the snooping and your lack of trust in him was validated sometimes letting the other person realize is better than putting them in defense. Best Wishes and nothing is impossible remember to breathe!

Taylor Borg 9 years ago

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beachmom 9 years ago

bMe I am sorry you are going through this with your husband. I totally understand, I have been married for over 30 yrs. and my husband was having an emotional affair with someone much younger that works for him. It is really challenging, and I have been there. You can get through it and your marriage can get better. So many marriages go through this. .... Strong Marriage Now does work, I have been using it this last year. Keep working on your marriage, and take care of yourself too. It's not right what your husband is doing but you can work on your marriage and make an impact even if he is not working on your marriage. I wasn't sure that this works but I do now. Believe me it works. I understand your hurt, I have been there. Try not to keep looking on his phone, I had to stop too... it was making me crazy. Work on your marriage as they suggest in the program and it will make a difference. Remember why you were attracted to each other and why you got married. I hope this helps.

Mike_Olsen_SMN 9 years ago

Hi, Beachmom - I'm so happy to hear the system is working well for you both! Good luck to you in the future.